An Elite2 President Will Have Trouble Being An Elite1 President
The criticism of Obama is that his comments show that he's "elitist." I've seen numerous commentators say "after eight years of that bumbling moron Bush, don't we *want* an elite president?"
This comeback works by conflating two senses of the word "elite." The first -- call it "elite1" -- means "better than average at doing what they're trying to do." In that sense, yes, we want an elite1 president, a president who is better than the average American (or the average politician) at presidenting. And Obama probably would be an elite1 president.
But nobody's criticizing Obama for being elite1. They're criticizing him for being elite2 -- "a member of a privileged social group." There's good reason to not want an elite2 president, because their group membership, and the viewpoint and experiences that come from it, will make them less understanding of the problems facing the non-elite2 majority of the country. Not to mention that we already have a surplus of elite2 people in our government. Whether or not his "bitter" comments are evidence for or against it (a topic for another post), Obama is rather elite2. Then again, so are Hillary Clinton and John McCain.
The problem here is not just misunderstanding or twisting the criticism of Obama. The conflation of the two senses of elite reinforces the ideology that supports social inequality. It encourages us to think that the elite2 classes are elite1, that they deserve their privilege and they're better than the rest of us at presidenting, running businesses, etc.
This conflation is not new -- it's an element of the standard liberal case against Bush. His facade of no-elite2-ness -- his accent and malapropisms, his ranch and cowboy hat -- is treated, implicitly or explicitly, as evidence or a hook for his non-elite1-ness. And that's wrong.
*I am ready to say, though, that whining about the "-gate" suffix is almost as annoying as whining about the word "blog" being aesthetically unappealing.